Between Two Worlds Wanders a Haunted Sri Lanka Unresolved

After years of civil war, it’s a wonder there’s a Sri Lankan cinema at all, much less the cleanly shot, deep-focus work of Vimukthi Jayasundara. After getting attention with a 2005 Camera d’Or win at Cannes for his debut, The Forsaken Land, the filmmaker follows up with an elliptical exercise in wartime atmosphere and concussed reality. The stage is set rapidly and mystifyingly: A guy falls from the sky, office workers riot in the streets, and a minor-chord aura of menace pervades the lush, rolling countryside. The mystery man, whose story is echoed in a one-off scene of a fisherman telling the tale of a secret prince, flees in a white van, then wanders around; eventually, his sister-in-law tends to his injuries. The sense of a country haunted by apocalyptic conflict is too artily orchestrated: When a tree bursts into flames, or a puppy gnaws on a cow carcass, the image is rolled out as if on cue. Jayasundara’s play with foreground and background does neatly suggest Sri Lanka’s vivid contemporary troubles (cease-fire came only in spring of 2009) unfolding against a broader, even mythic, backdrop. But mostly the film strikes a pose of Tarkovskian suspension and gets stuck.

 
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